Frank Yerby

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Frank Yerby
Yerby frank.jpg
BornFrank Garvin Yerby
(1916-09-05)September 5, 1916
Augusta, Georgia
United States
DiedNovember 29, 1991(1991-11-29) (aged 75)
Madrid, Spain
Occupation historical novelist
NationalityUnited States of America
SpouseFlora Williams, Blanca Calle Perez
ChildrenJacques Yerby, Nikki Yerby, Faune Yerby, Jan Yerby

Frank Garvin Yerby ((1916-09-05)September 5, 1916 – (1991-11-29)November 29, 1991) was an American writer, best known for his 1946 historical novel The Foxes of Harrow. [1] [2]

Early life

Yerby was born in Augusta, Georgia, on September 5, 1916, the second of four children [3] of Rufus Garvin Yerby (1886–1961) and Wilhelmina Ethel Yerby (née Smythe) (1888–1960). Rufus, a hotel doorman, was part African-American, part Seminole; Wilhelmina ("Willie") was Scots-Irish. [1] Yerby would later refer to himself as "a young man whose list of ancestors read like a mini-United Nations." [4] One of Yerby's siblings was Alonzo Yerby, Associate Dean of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston and New York City Hospitals Commissioner. As a child, Yerby attended Augusta's Haines Institute, a private school for African Americans. [2] [5] In 1937, he graduated from Paine College with a B.A. in English, and earned his M.A. from Fisk University in 1938, [1] where he published his first poetry, in the Fisk Herald, "The Fishes and the Poet's Hands", "a curious poem [that] might be read as a lament that a fascination with the Romantic and picturesque would be at odds with penning protest literature", according to Hollis Robbins. [6] In 1939, he began courses for his doctorate in education at the University of Chicago, but left school to teach. [7] He was a professor of English at Florida A&M University and then Southern University in Louisiana, before moving to Detroit and New York where he worked in wartime defense industries. [2]


Yerby was originally noted for writing romance novels set in the antebellum South. [2] In mid-century, Yerby began writing a series of best-selling historical novels ranging from the Athens of Pericles to Europe in the Dark Ages. Yerby took considerable pains in research and often endnoted his historical works. In all, he wrote 33 novels.

His 1944 short story “Health Card,” published in Harper’s, won the prestigious O. Henry Memorial Prize for best short story. [2] [8]

In 1946, he published The Foxes of Harrow, a Southern historical romance, which became the first novel by an African-American to sell more than a million copies. In this work he faithfully reproduced many of the genre's most familiar features, with the notable exception of his representation of African-American characters, who bore little resemblance to the "happy darkies" that appeared in such well-known works as Gone With the Wind (1936). That same year he also became the first African-American to have a book purchased for screen adaptation by a Hollywood studio, when 20th Century Fox optioned Foxes. Ultimately, the book became a 1947 Oscar-nominated film of the same name starring Rex Harrison and Maureen O'Hara.

In some quarters, Yerby is best known for his masterpiece, The Dahomean (1971). [8] The novel, which focuses on the life of an enslaved African chief's son who is transported to America, serves as the culmination of Yerby's efforts toward incorporating racial themes into his works. Prior to that, Yerby was often criticized by blacks for the lack of focus on or stereotypical treatment of African-American characters in his books. [9] [8]

In 2012, The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote an article featuring an at-risk child whose life was turned around by reading Yerby books that one of his teachers was secretly providing to him. [10]

Later years and death

Yerby left the United States in 1952, in protest against racial discrimination, and moved to Nice, France for three years. In 1955 he moved to Madrid, Spain (with his second wife, Blanca, a native Spaniard), where he remained for the rest of his life. [2] [8] Yerby died from liver cancer in Madrid and was interred there in the Cementerio de la Almudena, a Protestant cemetery.

He had four children, Jacques, Nikki, Faune, and Jan Keith, with his first wife, Flora. [2]

Posthumous honors

In 2006, Yerby was posthumously inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame. [9]

In 2013, the Augusta Literary Festival created an award to honor Frank Yerby. This award is given to three fiction authors from a submission pool. [11]

In popular media

Uncle Percy in Thomas Mullen's Darktown is partly based on Frank Yerby. [12]

George R.R. Martin cites Frank Yerby as an influence on his own writing. [13]


Film adaptations


  1. ^ a b c Frazier, Valerie (July 16, 2002). "Frank Yerby (1916–1991)". New Georgia Encyclopedia. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Fleming, KaToya Ellis (17 March 2020). "You Never Can Tell About a River". Oxford American. Retrieved 22 March 2020.
  3. ^ "Rufus Garvin Yerby". October 30, 2014. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
  4. ^ Folkart, Burt A. (January 9, 1992). "Frank Yerby; Novelist Felt Rejected by His Native South". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
  5. ^ "Frank Yerby Was an Award Winning Novelist". African American Registry. Archived from the original on 2017-02-02. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
  6. ^ Robbins, Hollis (March 21, 2019). "Frank Yerby, Protest, and the Picturesque [by Hollis Robbins]". Best American Poetry. Retrieved September 5, 2019.
  7. ^ Lyon, Bill (March 30, 1981). "Expatriate Writer Frank Yerby Is Grousing Even Though His 30th Best-Seller Is Coming Up". People. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
  8. ^ a b c d "Frank Yerby". Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved 22 March 2020.
  9. ^ a b "Frank Yerby". New Georgia Encyclopedia.
  10. ^ Kristof, Nicholas D. (January 21, 2012). "How Mrs. Grady Transformed Olly Neal". The New York Times.
  11. ^ "Frank Yerby". Augusta Literary Festival Award.
  12. ^ Teutsch, Matthew (2018-08-09). "Uncle Percy and Frank Yerby in Thomas Mullen's"Darktown"". Interminable Rambling. Retrieved 2020-04-11.
  13. ^ Jackson, Matthew (2013-03-26). "George R.R. Martin recommends books you'll like if you like Thrones". SYFY WIRE. Retrieved 2020-04-11.
  14. ^ O.A.G. (May 15, 1954). "Movie Review: The Saracen Blade (1954) At the Palace". The New York Times. Retrieved November 4, 2015.

Further reading